e-letter 5/10/18

First of all I want to thank all who have come out for our first and second POV (Point of View) conversations. We have had a great response and we are grateful for all who have chosen to engage in this dialogue around a very challenging topic. I realize that people have very passionate opinions about this issue and I respect that. The whole point of POV is to provide a non-threatening, judgement free zone where we can share those feelings and learn to trust one another in the midst of our differences.
I do want to clarify a few things related to these POV conversations. There are some who have written me who believe that these conversations are focused on only one point of view regarding the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy and the authority of pastors to perform same gender unions. The first POV conversation contained videos representing 4 different points of view on this issue, views that are held by many within the larger UM church currently. The concern expressed to me in these letters was that there is no one representing the point of view of the traditionalists, who seek to maintain the current disciplinary language on this subject. However, the very first video shown at the first POV featured Rev. Mason Dorsey, who shared his traditional view. Other viewpoints expressed in the videos came from a layperson within the LGBTQ community who hopes for a change, a pastor who is straight but sees this as an issue of justice and hopes for change, and finally, a layperson who is caught in the struggle to understand and discern what is right for the church. Throughout the last two sessions I’ve talked with folks here at Suntree who resonate with all 4 of these different perspectives.
Participants were not asked to endorse any of the views presented. They were simply asked to listen and hear the various perspectives from the standpoint of empathy. Empathy is not about agreement. Empathy is a way to listen and show respect for one another. Empathy provides a way of seeing past an “issue” and remembering that everyone deserves respect and love no matter what point of view they may hold.
Others have expressed a concern that the UM church has already made a decision about all this and that Suntree is, in effect, advocating a particular position that has already been taken by the church but not shared with the public. However, the UM Church has made no decision about this issue. The only body that can make such a decision for the UM Church is the General Conference which will not meet to make these decisions until February 2019. We learned this week that 3 different proposals will be presented to the General Conference and the delegates of that conference will make a decision at that time. Right now, the proposals for that meeting are being finalized and we have only broad outlines of those proposals available. Bishop Carter recently published an article that shares the latest news from the Council of Bishops meeting and you can read that report at flumc.org/seven-comments-about-the-council-of-bishops-recommendations-on-a-way-forward.
Next, we also need to understand the nature of governance in the UM Church. The UM Church is a connectional system of governance, not a congregational system of governance. In our connectional system, decisions are not made by each congregation but at the larger church level, the General Conference. The General Conference, which represents Methodists from all countries, not just the U.S., meets every 4 years and is made up of clergy and lay delegates who are elected at the meetings of each Annual Conference (those are held separately in each conference, such as the Florida Conference). So, the delegates elected for the most recent General Conference in 2016 will continue their terms through this February 2019 “special” session. While Rob Tucker and I are clergy delegates to the Florida Annual Conference each year along with 2 lay delegates (currently Kathy and Richard Turner), none of us were elected to serve as delegates to General Conference. So, we will not be voting on any of these issues at General Conference.
Again, this will not be an individual church decision but a General Conference decision. No individual church has a vote. Obviously, whatever decision GC makes will affect all of us. That is the reason we are having these conversations. We are simply attempting to be open and honest about this process and where the UM church is in that process. But we are in no way predicting where the process is headed nor are we advocating a particular position. The pastors and staff of Suntree UMC will abide by whatever decisions are made at General Conference.
As a pastor, I have spent over 30 years abiding by the Discipline of the Church and I will continue to do so. If for some reason I felt I could not abide by and uphold the Discipline of the Church, I would have to leave my role as a United Methodist pastor. My vows of ordination are sacred to me and I have given my life to living into and upholding those vows. I have also given my life to the call of Christ to lead and serve the church which includes people of many different perspectives and viewpoints on just about every topic imaginable. While I hold personal views based on scriptural reflection and the leading of the Holy Spirit, I usually refrain from sharing those view publicly because in the end, I’m called to be the pastor of all of Suntree UMC and the larger Brevard community. I’m called to lead Suntree Church as faithfully as I am able through whatever comes, no matter what views I hold.
We are unapologetically advocating 3 points in all these conversations: 1. That we can and do hold differing understandings on this subject and no one should be demonized for holding any particular position, be it traditional or progressive or something in between. 2. We are called to respect and love one another in the body of Christ in the midst of our differences. 3. We are called to be in ministry with all people.
These are not new ideas for Suntree and they should not be new ideas for any church. It is the call of Christ to love and respect one another in the midst of our diversity.
Suntree is already doing that. We are already in ministry with all people; rich, poor, black, white, married, single, straight, gay, progressive, conservative and in between. You are welcome here no matter where you stand on this or any other issue in our life together. Each week we worship and serve alongside one another for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. We may not always understand one another or even agree with one another’s lifestyle choices. But scripture never lets us off the hook when it comes to loving one another.
This week in worship we will wrap up our Peace Works message series by reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet found in Luke 14:12-24. It is a reminder of God’s passion for filling God’s Kingdom with all kinds of people and of our call to invite all those for whom Christ died to the table of blessing, mercy and healing. Just as we have been reconciled to God in Christ, so we are called to be agents of reconciliation. We are likewise called to be peacemakers for the Kingdom.
I know the uncertainty of all this and what it means for the UM Church in general and for Suntree UMC is hard. But this is just one small part of our global UMC witness and the work, mission and ministry of this church goes on every day. Each week, new folks are finding a home here and discovering the love of God in Christ. Neighbors in need are being served. Children and youth are being led into relationship with Christ. Folks are finding healing, hope, encouragement and connection through the ministries of Christ at Suntree. That is what Suntree UMC is all about. Our mission is Christ’s mission and it is a big mission! Thanks for being a part of that mission!
See you on Sunday as Christ welcomes all of us to the table of grace and blessing!
Grace and Peace,